I decided to step outside. Auditions are weird. The natural inclination is to begin judging oneself against the others in the room, and it puts an actor in his head. To avoid this, I had learned it was wise to find out who was directly ahead of me on the sign-in sheet, so I would know when I was on-deck, then step away from the other men in the room, so as to keep my focus and ignore the inclination for comparison. I also needed to learn at least two verses of this song.
Outside, a man was sitting on a bench and lightly strumming an acoustic guitar. He was a cool-looking guy—Lenny Kravitz cool—with dreadlocks and a black tank top. We said hello. I peeked inside and saw Ray Ferrara reenter, telling everyone how fun it was and apologizing to the casting assistant for his mistakes (not sure what that meant). He cased up his Ibanez, told everyone they should never wear a leather harness, and remarked that it would be very funny to get pulled over by the cops wearing this getup.
“This being Hollywood, I’m sure they see it all the time, though,” he added. With a final sweep of his coat, he left the building.
I reentered, stopping in front of the open door of the assistant’s office, where I noticed a video monitor on the wall showing a live playback of the audition happening down the hallway. Holiday, the short man with the afro, was dancing in front of the camera, wildly strumming a prop guitar and singing as hard as he could. I watched for a moment. He was a little ball of fury. Leg kicks, expressive singing, a ton of energy packed into that 5’3” frame. “Good for him,” I thought. He was giving it his best shot, holding nothing back.
Soon, my name was called. One of the assistants escorted me down the hall to the holding room, for those about to audition. A second prop guitar had been placed in the room. “Emotional Rescue” was playing on a small CD player. Two other men were seated in the room, including Andrew, who was slotted to audition before me. I listened to the song being played, making sure I knew the lyrics, and worked on keeping my focus.
The casting director entered and called in the man two spots ahead of me. (By that point, I had been there over an hour.) Andrew asked me for the time. When I told him, he frowned. He needed to be in Culver City by 4 p.m. He was a very clean-cut young man, and I assumed he was feeling out of place at this audition and looking for an excuse to leave. I asked him where he was from. Alabama. I told him I was from Tennessee. He seemed nervous, and I’m not sure he heard me.
“I’ve got to leave. Good luck to you,” he told me and quickly left the room. I saw him speaking briefly to the casting assistant before he walked out. His exit put me next in line to audition. A few minutes later, the casting director appeared and called me into Studio 3.
For the record, I am a character actor. I love playing bizarre, eccentric types. But my agent only sends me on calls looking for musician types, and I’m 36 now and not really a rocker anymore. My hair is cropped short, and I’ve started tucking in my shirts. But still, all she sends me on are musician type roles and I usually know how they will end.
I walked into Studio 3, hoping to be psycho-sexual and charismatic. I noticed a medium-sized dog in the room. I have been told that, if possible, it is a good idea to get the casting director talking about himself, as most people enjoy talking about themselves. And it forms a connection between the actor and casting director. I asked the dog’s name.
The casting director stayed busy loading the camera, but was quick to answer, “Duke.” Then he named off several famous “Dukes” of pop culture. “Duke Ellington,” he said. “I named the dog after him. Or maybe John Wayne…The Duke.”
“Now,” he said, transitioning, “here’s how this is going to work.” He pointed to the guitar I had seen Holiday strumming. “There’s your axe. You’re going to perform to the song of your choice. And afterwards I’m going to interview you, as White Gold. Pretend you are doing an interview after a sold-out show. Any questions?”
“Yes. Do I have to use the guitar?” I had this idea of performing without my axe, doing a Jaggeresque prance around the room, kneeling to the crowd while singing, perhaps like Bono, way back when.
“Yes, you have to use it.”
“Can I use that microphone stand?” I asked, pointing to the one in the corner.
“No,” he said. “Now what song are you doing?”
I could almost hear his thoughts. Great, I’ve only had to hear that one two hundred times today. “Okay,” he said. “State your name and then tell me that you’re reading for White Gold.”
“Hi, I’m Michael Green, reading for the role of…(dramatic pause)…White Gold.”
He started the music. I am not a fan of fake guitar playing; it seems artificial. But I had no say in the matter, and I also didn’t know how to sing this song. Mick Jagger sang it in a high falsetto. But I had yet to sing it aloud—using falsetto would be taking a huge chance. Should I use a deeper voice, taken down an octave? I didn’t know what I was going to do until the music started, when I sang in a high falsetto, Ooohhhhh, oooohhhh, and swung the guitar to my side. No way was I going to fake playing it. However, I realized I couldn’t prowl around the stage like Jagger because I’d be taken out of camera sight. So I planted on my mark and continued singing, hoping he wouldn’t play more than two verses because that was all I knew.
The rest is a blur. I sang my heart out for those two verses and moved with cocksure grace, though perhaps not as “self-serious” as I hoped. But the interview was next, and I was ready for that. I put down my guitar and stood on my mark. I lowered my voice, softened it a touch, and faked deep introspection.
“How do you keep up the stamina onstage, to do what White Gold does up there?”
I pondered broodingly. “I think stamina is all a state of mind,” I said with a touch of a British accent (I don’t have a very good British accent. It’s terrible, in fact). “If you allow yourself to think you’re tired, you will be tired.”
And from there, I made up stuff. Nonsense, really. The sort of self-absorbed patter only a rock star could get away with saying.
The man had one more question for me. “What is White Gold?”
“What is it to me, or what is it to you?” I asked.
“Uhh…” He seemed a little put off by this. “To you, I guess.”
“White Gold is different to me than it might be to others. (I looked away from the camera, two-thousand-yard-stare-like.) I remember talking to my girl once. She told me, ‘You may not have much, but you’ve got soul…white soul.’
“And from there was born… (twirling my fingers with a flourish)…White Gold.”
The casting director stopped the camera and said, “Alright, brother. Thank you very much.”
“Thank you,” I told him, picking up my keys and phone and leaving. “Good luck to you.”
After doing enough of these, an actor learns one thing. If he hears these comments—That was really good, Are you available for call backs?, Can you do that again?—then he’s got a chance. These are the comments that keep him going, slugging it out day after day.
But when he hears, “Thank you very much?” Well, he should grab his guitar, hope he put enough change in the meter and live to fight another day, because there isn’t going to be a callback.
Outside, I breathed a sigh of relief that there was no $50 parking ticket on my car’s windshield and drove an hour back to the Westside, asking myself if I could have done anything differently. I replayed the interview in my head, giving different answers to the man’s question, “What is White Gold?”
“White Gold,” I spoke slowly while pushing through traffic, “is attitude. White Gold is a lifestyle.”
“White Gold, ” I waved my hand flamboyantly in the air. “White Gold is Me.”